Ebey’s Reserve manager, three Trust Board members resign

Perplexing strife surrounding the management of Ebey’s Landing came to a head Tuesday.

Perplexing strife surrounding the management of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve in Central Whidbey came to a head Tuesday with the surprise resignations of the top staff member as well as three members of the nine-person Trust Board.

Marie Shimada, who also happens to be a Democratic candidate for Island County commissioner, gave a speech to announce her resignation as Reserve Manager on Tuesday. She said there has been a “mutiny” in the past few months on the Trust Board.

“I fear that not only is the ship lost at sea, it’s headed for the bottom,” she said. “I would encourage everyone to look for a life raft.”

Since Shimada was hired in 2022, nine members of the Trust Board have resigned.

After an executive session, Trust Board Chair Jeff Sturm also resigned, along with Vice Chair Heather McCoy and Treasurer Jen Schmitz.

On Friday, Kristen Griffen, one of the newer members of the board, said things already “feel calmer” and she emphasized that dedicated, solid people continue to work to protect and improve the Reserve. The chairperson apologized about an angry letter he sent to the Island County commissioners and word circulated that one of the board members may want to un-resign.

The Trust Board manages Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which encompasses much of Central Whidbey and was established in 1978 to protect the historical record of Puget Sound exploration, settlement and agriculture from the 19th century to the present.

Members of the Trust Board are appointed by the four partners of the Reserve, which are Island County, the town of Coupeville, Washington State Parks and the National Park Service. Coupeville appoints three people who live in town while the county appoints four people who live in unincorporated areas, with one being an at-large position. In addition, an employee of State Parks and employee of National Parks are members.

In her resignation speech, Shimada blamed an unnamed family for causing strife on the Reserve and even misusing public funds.

“The evidence grows that only one single family wants control and profit,” she said.

She thanked several of the farm families, conspicuously not including the Sherman family, which many believe is the target of her anger. One member of the family, Alix Roos, is on the Trust Board.

Shimada previously blamed Island County Commissioner Melanie Bacon — one of her rivals in the election — for behind-the-scenes scheming, but her name didn’t come up in the resignation speech.

After the meeting, Roos said she is baffled by Shimada’s ire towards her and her family. She said she had no plans for firing Shimada but was coming to the meeting with a proposed improvement plan based on “markers that demonstrated collaboration, honesty and integrity moving forward.”

In fact, Shimada could not have been immediately fired under board procedures. She did not immediately return a call for comment.

Both Roos and Griffen said accusations that their appointments were orchestrated to get rid of Shimada are ridiculous. Roos said her reputation and commitment to the Reserve stand on their own.

“I was employed at the Trust Board office,” she said, “spent five years as the Friends of Ebey’s executive director, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars alongside our incredible community, during that time visited our representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. three times to advocate for the Reserve, facilitated dozens of events to celebrate our beautiful landscape, and am also a multi-generational farmer in the heart of the Reserve.”

The Friends of Ebey’s is the fundraising arm of the Trust Board management.

After the meeting, Sturm emailed a letter to the county commissioners, which was obtained through a records request. It states that his decision to resign had nothing to do with Shimada’s actions or performance. He wrote that Shimada made enemies within the Reserve community, including Roos, the Friends of Ebey’s Board and the mayor of Coupeville.

“My resignation is a direct result of the toxicity and dysfunction facilitated by this group’s duplicitous, behind the scenes scheming and manipulation,” he wrote.

On June 27, however, he sent an email retracting the letter and apologizing to Roos, the mayor, the Friends of Ebey’s and the Trust Board for his “unfounded accusations.”

“Communication vacuums and biases result in assumed motives and misguided perceptions,” he wrote. “I am not immune to this and got caught up in long standing disputes based on many false perceptions. If my previous letter can serve any good purpose, perhaps it can lead everyone involved into taking a step back and looking with unjaundiced eyes at where we are, how we got here, and what they can do to fix things for the future.”

Even though she is continuing to work until July 19, Shimada sent an email to the community announcing that she resigned and directing people with questions about the Reserve to a general email address.

The Trust Board members that remain are Roos; Griffen, the former Reserve member; Alan Hancock, a former superior court judge and owner of a historic farm; John Whittet, Central Whidbey Island Parks area manager; Elexis Fredy with the National Parks Service; and Lynda Austen, a former Reserve employee.